Better than the WebMD story on the same study because CNN discussed potential harms and had several sources. But this is one instance where the 4-star score based on our 10 criteria seems too high. When you get the basics wrong, you got the story wrong.
What basics are wrong? The on-air and online stories still used terms like "benefit" and "lowers risk" – sometimes with the qualifier "may cut risk" which still doesn’t cover up the inaccuracy of using causal language to explain results that can’t prove cause-and-effect.
Some of the online comments on the CNN website provide a glimpse of how readers react to such stories:
Not applicable – the cost of coffee is not in question.
The online and on-air stories still used inappropriate causal language – as the WebMD story did – in describing the results of a study that can’t establish cause-and-effect.
The online story said "may cut risk" and "may lower the risk." Adding the qualifying "may" doesn’t detract from the inappropriate causal verb that follows.
The on-air story used the term "benefit" when benefit can not be established in this kind of study.
At least this story did what the WebMD story didn’t do in discussing some of the potential harms from drinking a lot of coffee.
At least the story commented briefly on the nature of the study: "They looked at nine existing studies and analyzed how much coffee was consumed by more than 5,000 cancer patients and about 9,000 healthy people."
But it never stated explicitly that this kind of study CAN NOT establish cause and effect. That’s still a major shortcoming of such stories. It only takes a line to do so, and we’ve provided some sample lines in a primer on this topic elsewhere on our site.
No overt disease-mongering in the story.
One of the researchers and two independent sources were interviewed – something WebMD didn’t do.
The story didn’t comment – as the WebMD story did – on other factors analyzed in the study such as tea, fruits and vegetables.
Not applicable – the availability of coffee is not in question.
The story at least briefly mentions other coffee research: "Other recent studies suggest coffee may have beneficial effects in other diseases like dementia, diabetes, liver and Parkinson’s disease. However, coffee alone may not be the answer according to some experts."
Because of the number of sources cited, it’s clear this did not rely on a news release.